Edy Poppy - What is fidelity? Part autofiction, part literary, cinematic, and musical dance of allusions, and part chronicle of the mute body’s aches and pains and lusts and needs, the novel deftly hits its notes, high and low, to create a symphonic work of tragicomedy

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Edy Poppy, Anatomy. Monotony, Trans. by May-Brit Akerholt, Dalkey Archive Press, 2018.

What is fidelity? In Anatomy. Monotony., Edy Poppy examines this question with an intimacy and ruthlessness worthy of Marguerite Duras. Vår, a young woman from a small Norwegian town, and Lou, a Frenchman from Nîmes, maintain an open marriage. But their polyamorous experiment is freighted with jealousies. Their life in London is broken into by one fascinating stranger after another, until eventually they decide to move away, back to Vår’s rural hometown—a decision that will change the nature of their relationship forever. Anatomy. Monotony. is a novel about sex, love, and the creation of literature in no uncertain terms.

Born in 1975, Edy Poppy is a Norwegian author and former model. In addition to her work in the theatre and as a writer of short stories, poems, and essays, her debut novel Anatomi. Monotoni won the Gylendal Prize in 2005.

“Edy Poppy’s Anatomy, Monotony is a devilish hybrid. Part autofiction, part literary, cinematic, and musical dance of allusions, and part chronicle of the mute body’s aches and pains and lusts and needs, the novel deftly hits its notes, high and low, to create a symphonic work of tragicomedy.”– Siri Hustvedt

Anatomy. Monotony. is narrated by Vår, a Norwegian woman married to Frenchman Lou; they live together in London. Vår earns some money as an art model -- "I'm a popular nude model" -- but she is also exposing herself and putting herself on display in another way: she is trying to write an autobiographical book -- this book. Passages of the work-in-progress -- also titled: Anatomy. Monotony. -- are interspersed in the more direct first-person account that makes up most of Anatomy. Monotony., with the perspective (third, rather than first- person) and the names changed -- the Vår-figure called Ragnhild Moe (which is, in fact, the pseudonymous Edy Poppy's real name), her husband Cyril (which is Poppy/Moe's (ex-)husband's real name)).
       Early on, she's still struggling somewhat with the writing, unsure about how seriously to take it, but finding it a valuable outlet:
I'm lucky to have my art, my scribbling, so I have somewhere to put my feelings.
       Eventually, it takes on greater importance -- and when, in the last parts of the book, Vår and Lou move from London to her small hometown of Bø, she devotes herself completely to the writing. Throughout, the main issue she wrestles with is:
I wonder how I can change this very personal story into literature.
       The personal story involves the very open relationship she and her husband have. While in London, Lou is also involved with the (legal-but-still-)teen Sidney, while she is involved with men like The Lover and then a cellist, the American.
       The American eventually challenges her, suggesting:
     All that counts is Lou and you, isn't it ? The rest of us are just test rabbits, something you can write about ...
       She denies it, but doesn't sound convincing. Her motivation might be different -- possibly even sincere, on some level --, but she -- and her husband -- certainly come across as toying around with others in exploring just what their own relationship means and can withstand. Vår tells herself: "It is important to test one's limits, how far one can go" -- and she and Lou go pretty far. But it's obviously not the easiest balancing act, and part of the process is her trying to figure out just exactly what she needs and wants, something she continues to struggle with:
I have to separate sex from love. I want my husband to be the one to get both. I believe I don't need to love anyone else, that he can take care of that side, that as well as the intellectual. Because the only thing he needs help to is the erotic, orgies, men who take me from all sides and are sexually almost bestial. I think I should be satisfied with that, because I get more than most women. Of freedom.
       But freedom -- no limits -- can also be illusory. Lou's relationship with Sidney does bother her, and the other men in her life do get in the way of her relationship with him. They both want to see it as a sort of game, and Lou tries to convince himself, and her, that: "this time it will be different, I'll be stronger", but when she goes to Amsterdam to spend some time with the cellist, the strains show pretty clearly.
       The problem with the characters of Vår and Lou is, of course, that they come across as almost entirely vacuous, empty vessels seeking fulfillment -- and looking for guidance in all the wrong places:
     Lou insists that we still have much to learn, both of us, when it comes to crossing boundaries, bending them. He asks if I know the author Pauline Réage ?
       Of course the sheltered Norwegian girl doesn't, and even if she gamely immerses herself in Lou's authors -- "Réage, Bataille, Apollinaire, Breton, Aragon ..." -- both are emotionally incapable of doing much with these literary abstractions. And, honestly, even Vår's sleeping around is pretty tame -- not to mention Lou not being able to be any more adventurous than taking advantage of a wide-eyed teen.
       Vår has grand visions -- and it's telling that by the end she expresses them even more in literary terms (i.e. removed from the real), describing how she'd like her alter-ego fictional self (i.e. herself) to be:
I'm thinking about women in literature and wondering whom I like best. I love Lila in Lila Said, Catherine in The Garden of Eden, Hermine in Steppenwolf, and Velma in Velma Variations. That is the kind of woman I want Ragnhild to be: playful, different, amoral ... A woman Hamsun would like to dislike, I think, or Thomas Bernhard ... one of history's many ingenious male chauvinists. I want Ragnhild to be a woman who ridicules all men who are hostile to women.
       [Lila Said is surely Chimo's Lila dit ça, published in English as Lila Says.]
       Turning to writing, and trying to (re)define herself on the page, seems a slightly healthier way of going about it, as the testing of their relationship by involving others so intimately seems to have been a challenge which they weren't really equipped to handle, literarily or in real life. (It's hardly surprising to find that Poppy dedicates the book to her husband -- noting parenthetically there also: "He is now my ex-husband" ..... (Though, in fact, they seem to have maintained a relationship, even collaborating on his own debut novel.))
       Vår pondered: "I wonder how I can change this very personal story into literature", and this is certainly one way to try -- but Anatomy. Monotony. doesn't really go far enough, in any respect. While descriptive, it isn't raw -- the brutal honesty that might, perhaps, be revealing --, and the self-reflection remains fairly shallow. Occasionally, Vår seems to be on the verge of some insight, but fails to make the connections: she makes the claim: "The only way to get a feeling for a place is to experience it alone, I think, find one's own way, one's own tempo, one's on good and bad habits", but fails completely to project that go-it-alone approach to her inter-personal relationships.
       Presumably, Vår and Lou's (open-)marriage concept is meant to shock in its pseudo-daring, but it doesn't really seem very daring at all; rather Vår and Lou seem to be struggling desperately with coming to terms to with any sort of emotion and human connection, with each other or others. Not they don't have honest, deep feelings -- but they seem entirely dazed by them: when Vår says, early on: "I'm lucky to have my art, my scribbling, so I have somewhere to put my feelings" she's oblivious to what she's saying -- that the life she's leading doesn't allow her feelings expression anywhere else but in her 'scribblings'.
       It doesn't help the novel, as literary work, that the sex isn't very sexy, and the writing -- not helped by the translation -- ... struggles. Some of the simple descriptions show a writer trying way too hard:
I run through the city, my legs like the second hand on a watch, I don't stop until I'm home.
       Legs moving "like the second hand on a watch" ? Two legs, moving like a single second hand -- that, anchored in place at one end, ticks in a circular motion ?
       And some sentences beggar belief:
     With you, an orgasm is like a momentous upchuck of the finest food and drink.
       (Rather too lackadaisical editing also does the book no favors: see just some of the sentences quoted above, e.g.: "He asks if I know the author Pauline Réage ?" is not a proper sentence in English.)
       Anatomy. Monotony. comes across as a heartfelt attempt by a young woman to process, through writing, her juggling of unfulfilling yet passionate relationships -- trying, just a bit too hard, to be 'literary' and daring, and not quite equipped for the task at hand. The book is ultimately way too personal, tending towards too much idealized wishful projection -- a lover telling Vår: "You are violently, incredibly beautiful, and extremely tender" -- as Vår/Poppy/Moe can't achieve anywhere near the necessary distance from herself and her acts. - M.A.Orthofer